Over The Edge

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Over The Edge (1979) is a film of rage on behalf of the marginalized and down trodden in our society. Although the rioters at the end of the film are white teenagers, their anger and their cathartic violence is a familiar one. It comes as no surprise then that the bad guys in Over The Edge are land developers and homicidal cops. The planned community of New Granada in Over The Edge is America in microcosm. Over The Edge has lost none of its social relevancy.

This tale of teen angst and rage is the product of a collaboration between director Jonathan Kaplan and co-writer Tim Hunter. Kaplan had made a specialty out of making drive-in movies with a message while Hunter would go on to make the masterpiece River’s Edge (1986). Working in tandem the two film artists bring out the best in each other in terms of their capacity to give voice to a uniquely teenage world view. The other writer of Over The Edge, Charles S. Haas brought in a comic levity to juxtapose the grit and nihilism of Hunter and Kaplan. Haas would later pen Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) and Matinee (1993) for Joe Dante.

All this talent elevates the concept of the “teen rebellion” film to new heights. In some respects Over The Edge could be seen as the American counterpart to Alan Clarke’s Scum (1979). Both films were released the same year and rely very little on traditional narrative structure. These films build on the aesthetic framework of teen “hangout” movies like The Pom Pom Girls (1976) that are episodic in nature. But unlike these free wheelin’ coming of age stories Over The Edge and Scum look at how societal institutions force their sense of structure on youth for better and for worse.

Director Jonathan Kaplan clearly loves a story about a character navigating a world beyond their control. Over The Edge takes this theme and sticks it in the context of the suburban nuclear family. The town of New Granada is the kind of community Steven Spielberg celebrated in the eighties but to Kaplan it is a mechanism of oppression and a symbol of ennui. For Kaplan New Granada is hardly different than the Yakuza brothels in his later Girls Of The White Orchid (1983).

The dark tone and authentic teenaged voices of Over The Edge have ensured it cult classic status. It’s a film that has had a tremendous influence over the years despite remaining relatively obscure. But as canons are re-written and films re-discovered Over The Edge is finally finding the more widespread acclaim it so richly deserves.